Questions for cooks: Making sense of specialty butters

Reader Craig submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

Since you have been writing about butter lately, I wanted to ask about cultured butter. When I was an exchange student in Belgium, all the butter my host family served was “cultured butter.” I’ve never seen it for sale in the US, but I would like to buy some. Is it “compound butter”? I see that on restaurant menus sometimes. Thanks.

Compound butter and cultured butter are not the same thing. (I’ll explain the differences below.) And, you can buy cultured butter in the U.S., at least you can where I live. Organic Valley dairy makes it, and it is available at my local Whole Foods. As someone who has had the joy of eating cultured butter while in Europe, I understand why you want more of it. Mmmmmmm …

Compound butter: Just a way of saying butter with stuff added to it, like in our herb butter recipe. Compound butter can be sweet or savory.

Cultured butter: This butter involves a live culture being added to the cream before it is churned. I think of it as yogurt butter, because often people just add yogurt to the milk as the way to introduce the live culture. It has more fat than regular butter, is noticeably sweeter, and is easy to make at home.

There are other types of butter you might also see mentioned in recipes, and they are …

Clarified butter: This butter is just the butter fat. You heat and melt butter until the milk solids separate from the fat, strain off the milk solids, and what remains is the butter fat. It’s great for high-temperature cooking because butter fat has a very high burn point. Again, this is easy to make at home.

Ghee: Similar to clarified butter, except the butter fat cooks for much longer than with clarified butter. This process makes ghee able to be stored on the counter instead of in the refrigerator. Once again, you can easily make ghee at home.

Thank you, Craig, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Now go out there and buy (or make) yourself some delicious cultured butter.

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